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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The number of new COVID-19 cases in Vermont increased 26% in the last week and 8% over the last two weeks, but Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday he didn't believe reimposing mask mandates would help reduce the spread of the virus.

Speaking at his regular weekly virus briefing, Scott said he continues to recommend that people wear masks during indoor activities.

“I don’t think my saying that, or us mandating that, is going to get one single person to wear a mask that doesn’t want to wear a mask. The enforcement is the challenge. Compliance is the challenge," Scott said.

“I think that we would take our eyes away, and our focus away, from doing what we can to get through this, it would just create one more controversy," Scott said.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine said that 70% to 75% of the new cases are among people who are unvaccinated.

Statistics show those who are unvaccinated are almost four times more likely than the vaccinated to become infected and hospitalized with COVID-19. Still, there are about 62,100 eligible Vermonters who have not been vaccinated.

The officials could not fully explain why Vermont is seeing an increase in cases now driven by the delta variant and why they haven't fallen off as quickly as they have as in other, less vaccinated parts of the country and the world where cases rose steeply and then fell off steeply.

“It’s such a heavily vaccinated region that we’re seeing the impact of the vaccine on much of the population, but we’re also seeing that it drags out the kind of course, that all the states have been having," Levine said. “And it’s a much flatter curve, so you stay in a sort of plateau kind of fashion for a longer period of time and you’re not going to see that abrupt steep drop.”


SCHOOL SCREENINGS

The school district in Barre is reinstating daily health screenings because of a rise in COVID-19 cases.

There are nearly 100 cases among students and adults in the Barre Union Unified School District, WPTZ-TV reported.

Before getting on a bus or entering school buildings, students will be asked if they’re experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or if they have been in contact with anyone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19.

“Unfortunately we’re having a significant number of kids who are coming in with symptoms. And we’re trying to head that off so that we’re not having anybody who could possibly be contagious in the schools," said Superintendent Chris Hennessey.

School nurses in the district said they are seeing around 10 kids a day who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

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“Despite us communicating out that really kids shouldn’t be in the school with symptoms, parents were still sending kids in,” Jennifer Lyon, COVID-19 coordinator and Spaulding High School nurse, told the news station.

”We’re having to make phone calls to get kids out of the building who are symptomatic. And it’s taking away from the rest of the work we really need to be doing, in our jobs, without COVID. So we’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed,” she said.

The vast majority of positive cases are among students in pre-K through eighth grade.

What's happening outside of school could be having an impact, Lyon said.

“We’re not seeing people wearing masks as much, here at school obviously they’re wearing masks, but when they’re out in the community it kind of feels like COVID isn’t an issue anymore, when really it especially is for younger kids because they can’t get vaccinated,” she said.


NUMBERS

On Tuesday the Vermont Department of Health reported 132 new cases of the virus that causes COVID-19, bringing the statewide total since the pandemic began to more than 36,000 cases.

There are currently 49 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 16 in intensive care.

The state reported a total of 339 COVID-19 fatalities, up four from Monday's report.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Vermont has risen over the past two weeks from 209.57 new cases per day on Sept. 26 to 211.57 new cases per day on Oct. 10.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Vermont did not increase over the past two weeks. It was 1.71 deaths per day on Sept. 26 and the same number on Oct. 10.

The Associated Press is using data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering to measure outbreak caseloads and deaths across the United States.


AP reporter Lisa Rathke contributed to this report from Marshfield, Vermont.

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